Again, Áine and Lugh were drawn behind the Lord of Darkness. He whisked them down the endlessly grey corridor to a new door that Donn opened wide. Sparkling multi-colored light danced into the cold, stone hallway. Áine heard music with a rhythm so intoxicating, it drew her curiosity and she peered within.
Ferris wheels filled the sky. Toys of every kind were piled in pink and orange trains that traveled through forests of chocolate. They sweetly sputtered pink steam played music that seemed to take over her every thought and emotion. Women wearing the most exotic clothes danced and draped themselves across cars so brightly painted it hurt her eyes to look at them directly. Food and pleasure of every kind were all laid before her eyes. A strange sensation overtook her as if her mind was reeling as colors melted and became the forms of people who swooped and swirled, singing and dancing on treetops beneath a bright blue sky. Rainbow-colored unicorns with fantastic wings lifted its riders high above violet, snow-capped mountains.
Áine looked back at her father who stood outside the door. “How could this be… here in the world of the lost?” She was taken in by the music, the colors and the intense excitement and loveliness of it all. “Oh, come with me there for a few minutes… please…”
Lugh took her hand to follow her. But as he tried to step across the threshold, the pain in his head seared through his entire body. He could not move further or enter.
At that moment, a large lion-like creature approached; or was it a man dressed in the cloak of the lion? She could not quite tell what he was. He brushed his soft mane against Áine’s arm. His eyes were large and drooping, as if he were sad. He certainly looked like a lion; a soft, loving, lonely lion. “Come, I can show you…” he said as if he wanted to be her friend. Áine felt empathy for the depth of his sadness and it made her want to help him. He didn’t seem at all what you’d expect from a lion; he seemed kind, almost human. He drew up on his hind legs and, with the polish of a gentleman, put her arm in his to escort her.
Lugh stood at the threshold; leaning in as far as he could go. “Áine…” But he knew no admonition would matter. She would continue. He closed his eyes; the pain was too much. He had no choice but to have faith in her choices and ability to distinguish truth from the falsehood of Donn’s imaginations.
Leaving her father in the doorway, together Áine and the lion walked through the doorway. Twisted vines grew up enormous trees making it easy for children to climb to the top and enjoy the sprouted chocolate-berry tasting fruit. The lion reached up and plucked a piece for her. It had the loveliest taste she had ever experienced.
“What is this place?” Áine asked, feeling perhaps, at last, in this great lion, she’d met someone she could trust.
“This is where dreams come true.”
“So this is someone’s dream?”
“Yes, or perhaps the dream of many.” The lion waved his arm indicating all of present. “Everyone should be free to do as they like, especially children, don’t you agree?”
They strolled for what seemed like hours. The children and young people were laughing and playing. Yet something odd seemed to shadow the place. No one said hello or smiled at them. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, yet no one was friendly or spoke with them. And Áine could not seem to shake her strange perception of the place, as if she were looking at the world tipped slightly sideways or through a kaleidoscope.
“Is this all these children do?” she asked. “Don’t they have families? Where do they live?”
“They live nearby,” The lion answered. “They are happy, you see? They want for nothing. This is the life they’ve chosen. Complete freedom to do whatever they wish.”
“What’s that?” Áine pointed at the dark silhouette of a hill that seemed to be full of people sleeping. She drew closer. “What is that?” She repeated. She wrested herself from the lion’s arm and ran toward the men and women lying there. “Hello! Hello! What do you think of this place? Would you like to come with us?”
There was no movement and as she drew closer, she saw the people were completely still. She looked at the wide hill, covered with people lying motionless. Not one of them was breathing. Then she looked beyond the hill to find a land bereft of life. Smoke filled the air; trees buckled in the wind and fell to the land thick with soot; a lonely starving dog ran in fear and the only sound was the cry of a vulture, dropping down to peck at death and tired earth. People hurried across concrete streets filled with trash, rushing to tall grey buildings through the polluted atmosphere, their heads hung low, pressing against the wind. She squinted to see the buildings had no windows or doors. It was the very opposite of the place they had been. There was no living thing. There were no harmonious songs of birds, no buds on trees, only that which had been used; discarded and forgotten. A feeling came upon her; a feeling, like a song that was played out of tune, like an animal crying in pain, everywhere every sound that should have been there was gone and in its place, a whine that pinched her nerves and made her very, very frightened.
The sickening feeling swelled in her gut, but she took courage and it turned to flaming anger. She turned to the lion. “They’re dead or destroyed! This world has been spent and wasted. Who are these people? Why is their world black while the others have everything?” she demanded.
“Ah, no worries. This is not where you will stay. You stay in the light. These people are…eternally out of the way, so to speak. Out of sight, out of mind – you see there is a limited amount, not enough for everyone, too bad for some. Sometimes people get in the way of enjoyment, I am sure you understand. There is just no time in our busy lives to worry about such things. I’ve simply taken care of things so there are no problems. The problems are far away; you don’t even have to see them. You, on the other hand, Áine, you can live in an ideal world.”
Aine could not speak and tears filled her eyes. He continued. “Everyone has the same chance, and those who get in the way, well, they need to be taken out of the way. Everybody knows that. Those you see alive are the fittest, the cleverest and of course, the most willing to be cruel when its needed, but that’s needed enjoy life just as you like. Everyone knows fair and equal treatment is the law. Equal treatment does not mean honest treatment. There’s no law that requires them to know their fate when they come here.” The lion looked up and smiled patronizingly.
Áine could see in his eyes, the same eyes as Donn, sunken and dark. “You … how dare you use the cloak of the great lion to pretend and create this false heaven? You sacrifice all that is most precious – life –not just of people and animals but the land itself. It is you who have taught them to hate and kill! It is you who have taught them to quietly drown out the noise of the dying and ignore the foul air and water, discarding what you no longer want.”
“No, Young One, they had to survive; they chose this way: to have all they want and ignore the cries of those less fortunate. Besides, they probably deserved it; no one is free from sin. These people have probably done something to deserve their misfortune, right? Those you see here in the colorful world overcome adversity by removing the barriers, nullifying them. The fittest deserve the best, that’s the law of nature. And so do you. You deserve the best. Their sacrifice is very little and you don’t need to worry about it. Let’s go back to where you belong….”
“No! No! No!” she screamed. “You are using them to create a pretend world; a fake world where some are better than others, where survival means cruelty. This is not true! You are teaching them greed and hatred.”
She turned and ran from him but the sickening feeling had overtaken her. She ran faster and faster, frantically trying to free herself from the feeling of the terrible place, tripping over people who seemed to grasp at her as she ran back toward the doorway and her father.
At last, she fell into Lugh’s arms, burying her face in his chest, crying like a child. “He has taken souls of those who were lost. He has created a pretend world by sacrificing men and women, land and sky! I hate him, Father, he is evil. He is trapping them! He has twisted the laws to his own ways. He is teaching children to do harm, he is showing them how to be cruel!”
Donn appeared in the doorway, as he was before, very tall and bony in his white robes. “No, Young One, you still have it wrong. I give people exactly what they want,” he said smoothly. “I am not the one to choose. They are. Come. There is more.”
“I don’t want to see your world! This is not the world they would create if they were free. It is not!”
“No?” Though he did not touch her, Áine could feel his forceful grip on her once again. “I must disagree, Child. People are not as innocent as you believe. You will see. There is more. Come with me.”